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Cops Detain Entire School, Illegally Search/Grope 900 Kids

Children feel violated, parents are furious, and a lawsuit is getting filed after the Worth County Sheriff’s office conducted an illegal search of 900 students — in the name of the war on drugs. The rights-violating intrusive and aggressive patdowns and drug dog searches yielded absolutely nothing.

On April 14, when the students of Worth County High School returned from spring break, they arrived at school to find a police state had taken over. The sheriff and his deputies — with no probable cause — detained and illegally searched every single child in the school, all 900 of them.

When kids went home that day to tell their parents what happened, naturally, they were furious as it is a gross violation of the children’s 4th Amendment rights.

“It’s essentially a fourth amendment violation,” said attorney Mark Begnaud. “It’s 900 illegal searches, suspicion-less pat downs, suspicion-less searches.”

Naturally, Sheriff Jeff Hobby is standing by this rights violation on a massive scale, noting that as long as a school administrator was present, the search of the children was legal.

Apparently, in the sheriff’s mind, school administrators can usurp the constitutional rights of children in favor of unlawful police searches.

But school officials and the student rule book disagree.

In the student handbook, it says school officials may search a student only if there is reasonable suspicion the student has an illegal item.

As WALB reports, Worth County Schools attorney Tommy Coleman said in order for the Sheriff’s office to search any students, they’d had to have reason to believe there was some kind of criminal activity or the student had possession of contraband or drugs.

“If you don’t have that then this search would violate an individual’s rights,” said Coleman. “[It] violates the constitutional right and enforcing them the right against unreasonable search and seizures.”

Interim Worth County Superintendent Lawrence Walters said he understands parents concerns about the drug search at Worth County High school on Friday, according to WALB.

“I’ve never been involved with anything like that ever in the past 21 years and I don’t condone it,” said Walters.

Walters said he was notified that there was be a search but pointed out that he did not give permission nor did he approve the mass groping of children.

“We did not give permission but they didn’t ask for permission, he just said, the sheriff, that he was going to do it after spring break,” said Walters.

“Under no circumstances did we approve touching any students,” explained Walters.

Adding insult to injury, many students complained that they got far more than just a pat down.

At least one deputy’s searches were found to be “too intrusive.”

According to Hobby, it was later discovered that one of the deputies had exceeded instructions given by Hobby and conducted a pat down of some students that was considered to be too intrusive.

When multiple students complained about being groped by the intrusive deputy, Sheriff Hobby ensured parents and school officials that “corrective action was taken to make sure the behavior will not be repeated.”

Exactly who that cop was and what ‘corrective action’ was taken, remains a mystery.

“I’m okay with them doing the search, if it was done appropriately like the school has done in the past,” said father of two Jonathan Luke. “But when they put their hands on my son, that’s crossing the line.”

Aside from not finding a single bit of contraband, the sheriff’s search was also entirely uncalled for as the Sylvester Police Department did a search on March 17 — just a few weeks before — and found no drugs.

But Hobby told reporters he didn’t think that search was thorough enough, so he decided to do his own. And, this time, he’d grope every student.

Now, many of the parents are planning a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s office which will likely be the only means of holding this man and his department accountable.

As for the 900 counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law that the sheriff should be facing, not a single charge has been levied against the department.

This is what school has become in a police state. (For more from the author of “Cops Detain Entire School, Illegally Search/Grope 900 Kids” please click HERE)

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The Pentagon Has a ‘Ghost Soldiers’ Problem

Since 2002, billions of U.S. tax dollars have been spent rebuilding Afghanistan after decades of war. A big chunk of that money pays Afghan soldiers and police. But it turns out a lot of those troops may not, in fact, exist. We investigate how your tax money is being wasted on “ghost soldiers.”

Here’s my interview with John Sopko, who is the inspector general watching over the U.S. taxpayer billions spent to rebuild Afghanistan.

Sharyl Attkisson: When you say “ghosts,” what are you referring to?

John Sopko: What we’re talking about are policemen, Afghan policemen, Afghan military, Afghan civil servants who don’t exist or they have multiple identity cards and we’re paying their salaries. By “we” I mean the United States and the international community…

For years, multiple audits have shown there’s no way to prove that the money we send for salaries is going to a real live body. And the payroll numbers just don’t add up. For example, Sopko says, in June 2016 the supposed number of Afghan military and police was 319,595. But an Afghan official told the Associated Press “the best internal estimate” of the real number was “around 120,000.”

Attkisson: This implies fraud, obviously.

Sopko: Absolutely. Major fraud. And what’s happening is the commanders or generals or other higher officials are actually pocketing the salaries of the ghosts. And I remember President [Ashraf] Ghani, again, at that time he wasn’t president, saying, “John, you, the United States government, are paying the salary of an Afghan who’s a teacher, he’s a civil servant, he’s a doctor, he is a policeman, and he’s a soldier. And it’s the same Afghan. And he doesn’t exist.”

Attkisson: What kind of money are we talking about?

Sopko: Hundreds of millions of dollars, we’re talking about, that may be lost.

Attkisson: In multiple letters and audits, Sopko has taken the Pentagon, which manages the money, to task stating, “Persistent reports raise questions regarding whether the U.S. government is taking adequate steps to prevent taxpayer funds from being spent on so-called ‘ghost soldiers.’” And he says the “ghost” phenomenon extends beyond Afghan and security paychecks to other forms of aid.

Sopko: It’s not just the salaries. We’re funding schools based on the number of students, so if you invent or inflate the number of students, you’re going to be paying more money. On the soldiers and police, we’re paying for extra boots, food for everything else and logistics for numbers that don’t exist.

Attkisson: Is there any way to tell who’s taking the money?

Sopko: It’s difficult because of the security situation. It’s really up to the Afghans or designing systems for the Afghans to implement.

The Pentagon is implementing a new system of biometrics in Afghanistan, using fingerprints, photos, and blood type. It recently said up to 95 percent of Afghan police and 70 to 80 percent of soldiers are now enrolled. The idea is to dispense with old ghosts, and ensure proof of life among a faraway force funded by U.S. taxpayers. The Pentagon expects to complete its person-by-person verification of Afghan’s army and police in July. (For more from the author of “The Pentagon Has a ‘Ghost Soldiers’ Problem” please click HERE)

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Ku Klux Klan Holds Rally Outside South Carolina Statehouse

Antifa Thugs Unmasked – by Laws Originally Passed Against the KKK

In a standoff between white supremacists and communist thugs, there are no heroes — save local law enforcement. Occasionally, however, there’s some half-decent schadenfreude to be found.

In a twist of delicious irony, a law originally enacted to deal with the Ku Klux Klan led to the unmasking of several Antifa thugs on the streets of Auburn, Alabama, Tuesday.

According to a story at Twitchy, local police told people protesting a speech by Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer at Auburn University — which was court-ordered to host him — to take off their hallmark masks.

From video shot outside the venue, it appeared as though the police were enforcing the rules, which included a no-mask policy. That meant the members of the [A]ntifa, or anti-fascists, were made to uncover their faces as they marched past law enforcement toward the campus.

As the story notes, the responses to the unmasking on social media included tweets lauding the Auburn Police Department for enforcing the law while criticizing local cops in Berkeley, California, where lax law enforcement has been blamed for riots over the weekend. Spencer’s views are despicable, but the way a free society deals with bad ideas is to drown them out with better ones, not engage in domestic terrorism. Someone needs to pass that memo along.

As my colleague Chris Pandolfo pointed out in the wake of the past weekend’s riots in Berkeley, Antifa’s name, which is a truncation of “anti-fascism,” really ought not to be taken at face value.

“‘Antifa’ is made up of self-described anarchists — radical left-wing thugs who employ violence and intimidation to advance their beliefs,” he writes. “They’ve shown up previously at Berkeley to shut down a “free speech” event hosted by provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, leaving damaged property, fires, and assault victims in their wake.”

In short, Antifa has no problem shutting down political demonstrations with brute force and intimidation tactics for their socio-political ends [read: terrorism], and they typically wear masks to do it.

Covering one’s face to commit acts of political violence is not limited to Antifa thugs. It’s also a favorite tactic of groups like ISIS and other Islamist terror cells, as well as another U.S.-based, Democrat-sympathetic domestic terrorist organization: The Ku Klux Klan.

What many may not know, however, is that the current law forcing the Antifa demonstrators to remove their facial coverings finds its roots in a decades-old provision originally passed to take on the robe-clad hate group.

Title 13 of the Alabama State Code prohibits masked people from congregating in public places without facing criminal charges. If you want to publicly gather in the Yellowhammer State, you can either take your mask off, move along, or leave in cuffs. This, along with a provision the court order was what was being enforced, a spokesman for the Auburn Police Department confirms via email.

While several states now have laws prohibiting the covering one’s face in public, these laws in the deep south herald back to mid-20th century efforts to keep white supremacists from going about incognito to terrorize and intimidating law-abiding citizens.

The history of Alabama’s anti-masking law go back to Governor Jim Folsom — a noted opponent of the KKK — who in 1949 signed a law making wearing a mask a misdemeanor, punishable, back then, by a $500 fine and a year in jail, according to Time Magazine archives. The law was the first of its kind passed in the Deep South since Reconstruction.

The current version of the law was passed in 1977.

Furthermore, in “Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan”, historian David Mark Chalmers notes that Folsom also ordered the arrest of anyone who similarly covered their license plates, saying “mobs, hooded or unhooded, are not going to rule Alabama.” Nor would they at Auburn.

Georgia also has a similar statute, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1990, after it faced a legal challenge from the KKK on First Amendment grounds.

So there you have it: A law put in place to combat racist terrorists over five decades ago is now being used against communist terrorists trying to intimidate racists. Welcome to 2017, folks. (For more from the author of “Antifa Thugs Unmasked – by Laws Originally Passed Against the KKK” please click HERE)

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Shock Poll: 67 Percent of Americans Believe Dems Are out of Touch

Despite the media’s best efforts to attack conservatives and Republicans, it seems the American people aren’t buying it. After three months of wall-to-wall coverage about Russian interference in the election, and a general hostile attitude by the media, 96 percent of Trump’s voters would vote for him again, according to a new ABC News/ Washington Post poll.

But that’s not even the biggest story to come out of the poll. A staggering number of American voters think the Democratic Party is “out of touch” with “people’s concerns.”

The media have been focused on the horse-race numbers coming out of the poll. Numerous outlets have run stories that show Donald Trump winning by a 43-40 percent margin if the election were held today. In a bit of media bias that would make even the most shameless propagandist blush, The Hill went with this headline, “Poll: 85 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for her again.” While those are nice hypothetical horse-race numbers, they hide what the media really don’t want to talk about.

The real headlines should be about how distasteful voters think the Democratic Party is. When asked the question, “Do you think the Democratic Party is in touch with the concerns of most people in the United States today, or is it out of touch?” a whopping 67 percent said the Democratic Party was “out of touch.”

The “out of touch” percentage was five percent higher than the same question asked of the Republican Party, and a whopping nine percent higher than Trump’s negative number. According to Langer Research, who conducted the poll, it is “a steeply negative turn for the Democrats, 19 percentage points more critical than when last asked three years ago, including especially steep losses in their own base.”

These numbers succinctly show that it wasn’t a massive conspiracy by the Russians that lost the Democratic Party the presidency; it was their ideology. In March of 2014, those polled were evenly split at 48 percent between those who answered the question with “in touch” and “out of touch.”

In that same poll, the GOP number was 68 percent “out of touch,” versus 28 percent “in touch.” The Republican Party, in three years, has marginally been considered more in touch with the problems of Americans, and the Democratic Party has cratered. Yet the media continue to act the same as they did during their failing election cycle.

After 100 days of pussy-hat parties, violence by Antifa thugs, marches for science, and a whole host of other “out of touch” radical left-wing priorities being pushed by Democrats, the American people have spoken. They want nothing to do with the radical agenda of the Democrats. In fact they would re-elect Donald Trump again to stop it.

Media narrative destroyed, full stop.

There are signs that this poll has shaken the Democratic Party to its core. On “Meet the Press,” after this polling came out a midnight, Nancy Pelosi went on “Meet the Press” to say that “of course” you can be pro-life and a Democrat. The question came after the Daily Kos recanted its endorsement of the Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha, Nebraska after it was revealed the candidate co-sponsored the state’s 20-week abortion ban, according to the Washington Times. Pelosi’s reaction has not been the mainstream position of Democratic leadership over the last decade.

Once again the mainstream media are not reporting on the real story: that the policies they and the Democratic Party have been pushing are turning off the vast majority of Americans. Instead, they are focused on easy hypothetical horse-race headlines.

The numbers also go to show that if the GOP were serious about keeping their campaign promises and accomplishing what the American people have time and time again elected them to do, they could turn their fortunes around. (For more from the author of “Shock Poll: 67 Percent of Americans Believe Dems Are out of Touch” please click HERE)

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UN Elects Largest Oppressor of Women, Saudi Arabia, to Women’s Rights Commission — Seriously

Saudi Arabia isn’t known for gender equality. In fact, the Saudi government’s idea of fair play among the sexes is ensuring women their husbands can only have three more wives. Saudi women truly have zero rights in society. Ranking Saudi Arabia among the 10 worst countries for women, the Toronto Star wrote,

In oil-rich Saudi Arabia, women are treated as lifelong dependents, under the guardianship of a male relative. Deprived of the right to drive a car or mix with men publicly, they are confined to strictly segregated lives on pain of severe punishment.

So, imagine the surprise and dismay the world is now exhibiting with the knowledge the United Nations has elected Saudi Arabia as a member of its Women’s Rights Commission called the “Commission on the Status of Women.”

Geneva-based UN Watch president Hillel Neuer likened the election to, “making an arsonist into the town Fire Chief!” Neuer went on a Twitter tirade to drive home the significance of his opposition to allowing Saudi Arabia to have a seat anywhere near a women’s rights council.

“The news the @UN never wanted you to see—but we made it go viral. Saudi Arabia elected to women’s rights commission,” he tweeted. Calling on opponents to rise up, he stated, “But why not show moral courage & condemn this UN betrayal of Saudi women’s rights activists? UNESCO’s chief condemned its election of Syria.”

And in another tweet, he said, “How does Saudi Arabia win seats on U.N. human rights bodies? Cash & secret deals—even with adversaries like Russia.” Neuer’s reference to Saudi money, certainly a factor in buying their way onto the commission, is nothing new. The Free Thought Project has been chronicling their monetary influence for years.

Earlier this year we told you the Saudis heavily influence John McCain’s politics, leading some to question his motives for encouraging the U.S. to join the Syrian Civil War. And on the Democratic side of the two-party-paradigm, the Saudis have given millions to the Clintons. So, it should come as no surprise watch dogs like UN Watch are saying the same thing about the Saudis.

What does it mean for the world now that the Saudis have a seat at the women’s rights table? Glad you asked….UN Watch describes the election as very significant.

The fundamentalist monarchy is now one of 45 countries that, according to the U.N., will play an instrumental role in “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

The election, also, was anything but transparent. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia was elected by a “secret ballot” last week at the U.N.’s 54-nation Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The U.S. reportedly objected to a Saudi nomination and pressed the countries of the world to take a vote, in protest of the ECOSOC’s customary practice of “rubber stamping” nominations. Unfortunately for women, the vote passed and the Saudis were placed on the commission.

Saudi Arabia, who was exposed by the 28-pages for helping to fund the 9/11 terrorist attacks which brought down the World Trade Center’s twin towers, and who is being sued in court by families of the victims, is the same country which kills homosexuals and stones adulterers.

When 9/11 happened, instead of going after the Saudis — who made up the majority of the hijackers — the George W. Bush administration attacked and overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, and destroyed the country of Afghanistan.

If you need any evidence on just how oppressive the Saudi regime is, look no further than the video below that aired on national television — an instructional video on how to beat your wife.

The video features a Saudi doctor, Khaled Al-Saqaby, who deals with the often ‘thorny’ issue of how and when to beat your wife. Al-Saqaby begins the video by telling husbands not to immediately attack their wives, but to discipline them properly first.

When speaking of how women some women say they would like to be treated with equality, Al-Saqaby called this a “very grave problem.”

He says, “The first step is to remind her of your rights and of her duties according to Allah. Then comes the second step – forsaking her in bed.”

The third step, beating, has to correspond with the “necessary Islamic conditions” before taking action.

“The beating should not be performed with a rod, nor should it be a headband, or a sharp object.”

Instead, husbands should use a ‘tooth-cleaning twig or with a handkerchief’ to beat their wife.

Hopefully, then, the wife will “feel that she was wrong in the way she treated her husband.”

At the end of the video, Al-Saqaby lets the wife-beating husbands of Saudi Arabia know that sometimes, you may have to dole out an extra beating outside of the world of just discipline. Sometimes, according to this sicko ‘doctor,’ they just deserve to be beaten. (For more from the author of “UN Elects Largest Oppressor of Women, Saudi Arabia, to Women’s Rights Commission — Seriously” please click HERE)

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Bill Nye Makes a False Claim About the US Constitution — Again

Bill Nye the “Science Guy” tried to claim the Constitution supported the concerns of thousands of scientists and environmental activists who took to the streets on Earth Day to protest the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts to federal agencies.

“If you suppress science, if you pretend climate change isn’t a real problem, you will fall behind other countries that do invest in science, that do invest in basic research,” Nye told CNN Saturday as the “March for Science” took place.

The march took place in dozens of cities across the world, and the main march took place in Washington, D.C., Saturday. Nye spoke at the rally where thousands carried signs deriding skeptics of global warming and cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other bureaucracies that fund or conduct scientific research.

“And it is interesting to note, I think, that Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution refers to the progress of science and the useful arts,” Nye said.

“Useful arts in 18th Century usage would be what we call engineering or city planning or architecture,” Nye said. (Read more from “Bill Nye Makes a False Claim About the US Constitution — Again” HERE)

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NYT Refuses to Use Term ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ Because It’s ‘Culturally Loaded’

Worried the term “female genital mutilation” might sharpen the divide between those who oppose brutally cutting away a little girl’s genitalia to deprive her of sexual pleasure and those who practice the “rite,” one New York Times editor instead refers to the ritual as “genital cutting.”

“There’s a gulf between the Western (and some African) advocates who campaign against the practice and the people who follow the rite, and I felt the language used widened that chasm,” NYT science and health editor Celia Dugger explained Friday. She also said the widely used term (FGM) is “culturally loaded” in the explanation, which came as a result of inquiries from The Daily Caller News Foundation regarding a reporter’s decision to use the term “cutting” in a recent story about a doctor in Michigan.

The doctor was allegedly caught mutilating innocent little girls as young as six and charged with a felony. Performed in American culture and subject to American laws, female genital mutilation carries a sentence of up to five years.

Dugger said she made the decision to ditch “mutilation” for “cutting” after traveling to sub-Saharan Africa for an immigration story in 1996. While she says she never “minced words in describing exactly what form of cutting was involved” and the “terrible damage” it inflicted on young girls, Dugger apparently wanted to soften the instinctive horror by many who oppose the brutal practice by using “cutting” instead.

Other human rights organizations have frowned upon using the term “genital cutting,” saying that it does not accurately describe the suffering placed on young girls. (Read more from “NYT Refuses to Use Term ‘Female Genital Mutilation’ Because It’s ‘Culturally Loaded'” HERE)

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FBI Stories: Comey Didn’t Trust Lynch, FBI Willing to Pay $50,000 for Trump Dossier

Two weekend stories are raising further questions of the role politics played in both the criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email abuses and the investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged Russian ties. If J. Edgar Hoover could see these stories he would roll over in his gown.

50 Gs for the Trump Dossier?

The New York Times reported Saturday that the FBI was willing to pay $50,000 to the source of a dossier on Donald Trump containing information gathered by former British spy Christopher Steele. This dossier, which has since been discredited, includes allegations of sexual antics by Trump in Moscow and talk of ties to Putin.

As the Daily Caller reports in a story dated April 22,

A July 19 memo from Steele’s dossier alleges that the Trump campaign used (advisor Carter) Page as an intermediary in a “well-developed conspiracy” [with Russians] to help Trump during the election. The source of that claim has since been identified as Sergei Millian, a Belarusian-American businessman who has a history of exaggerating his business ties.

The Bureau wanted corroboration. If Steele delivered, he’d get the 50 G’s. (Talk about G-men!) However the ex-MI6 agent was never paid, the Times says.

Never paid by the FBI would be more accurate. As reported by The Stream, Steele is an “opposition researcher.” After a stint collecting dirt for Trump’s GOP opponents, Steele was hired by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm aiding Hillary Clinton.

So not only was the FBI willing to lap up allegations from an opposition researcher tied to Hillary Clinton, they were willing to shell out $50,000 tax dollars if he could confirm the allegations. Since the Feds didn’t pay Steele, the Daily Caller speculates that perhaps he could not confirm the information.

End of story, right? Wrong.

The FBI reportedly relied on Steele’s dossier last September when seeking a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant against Page. That gets us into the whole gathering of intel on Trump associates. This leads to the dubious unmasking of names, the definitely illegal leaking and all the rest. A scandal that curiously has vanished from the airwaves quicker than Bill O’Reilly.

What’s more, The Washington Post reports the relationship between Steele and the FBI ended because the dossier “became the subject of news stories, congressional investigations and presidential denials.” For those not fluent in translating liberal media-speak, let me help: “They got caught.

The Stream has laid out how the dossier’s arrival at the FBI curiously lines up with Bill Clinton’s not-so-secret rendezvous with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. To refresh:

Steele crafts an anti-Trump dossier for his client, the Clinton-backing Fusion GPS.

Seems logical Fusion GPS would share it with their client.

June 27: The client’s husband secretly huddles with Loretta Lynch at the Phoenix airport.

July 5: Steele brings the dossier to the FBI.

July 5: James Comey says he’s going to let Hillary skate for the ” extremely careless” mishandling of highly classified documents.

By month’s end, the FBI is instead investigating Trump and his associates.

Why bring up Lynch? Because somebody was playing politics with FBI investigations last year. But don’t believe me. Ask FBI Director James Comey.

Comey Worried Lynch was Playing Politics with His Clinton Investigation

James Comey didn’t trust Lynch when it came to the Clinton investigation so he kept her out of the loop. According to The New York Times:

… this go-it-alone strategy was shaped by his distrust of senior officials at the Justice Department, who he and other F.B.I. officials felt had provided Mrs. Clinton with political cover. The distrust extended to his boss, Loretta E. Lynch, the attorney general, who Mr. Comey believed had subtly helped play down the Clinton investigation.

What does “subtly helped play down” mean?

How to “Subtly Play Down”

On July 10, 2015, the FBI launched a criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email activities. However, the next morning Lynch’s Justice Dept. insisted “it is not a criminal referral.” Hillary would use the distinction without a difference to falsely declare she was not under criminal investigation. “It’s a security review,” she would say.

In September, Comey met with Lynch before testifying on Capitol Hill. He would not reveal details of the investigation, of course. But Lynch went further. She pushed him to refer to the case as a “matter,” not an “investigation.” Comey felt Lynch was “asking him to be misleading and line up his talking points with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.” One prosecutor ribbed Comey, “I guess you’re the Federal Bureau of Matters now.”

Fast forward to the weeks before the election. Agents find tens of thousands of Hillary emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer. Comey felt it was his duty to tell Congress. He knew failing to do so would lead to accusations he had been withholding information before the election. Lynch was dead set against telling Congress about the emails. However, in the end, she decided against ordering him not to send the letter.

That’s the Times‘ idea of subtly playing down.

Apparent confirmation of Comey’s suspicions came from a document seized from a Russian hacker. It was written by a Democratic operative who expressed confidence that Lynch would stop the Clinton investigation from going too far.

Meanwhile …

Hillary Clinton made a surprise appearance at the Tribeka Film Festival Saturday night. She talked about elephant poaching.

Which gets to our final point: Even the talented filmmakers at Tribeka could not make any of these characters and intrigue up. (For more from the author of “FBI Stories: Comey Didn’t Trust Lynch, FBI Willing to Pay $50,000 for Trump Dossier” please click HERE)

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Doctor’s Arrest Brings Attention to US Female Circumcisions

Zehra Patwa only learned a few years ago that during a family trip to India at age 7, she was circumcised, which is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East . . .

The recent arrest of a Michigan doctor accused of performing the procedure on two 7-year-old girls from Patwa’s own Shiite Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra, highlights how female genital mutilation is alive and well in parts of the Western world where its adherents have migrated and formed communities.

Depending on the culture, female circumcisions are performed on girls of various ages and by various methods, and they are seen as a way of controlling a girl’s sexuality, maintaining her purity or even making her more fertile as she grows into adulthood. Critics, though, say it can cause complications during childbirth, make intercourse painful and eliminate any pleasure a woman can derive from sex. (Read more from “Doctor’s Arrest Brings Attention to US Female Circumcisions” HERE)

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It’s Almost Impossible to Find out the Cost of a Medical Procedure. This Company Is Trying to Change That.

For a patient looking to see a doctor for any given medical procedure, costs often vary wildly based on the facility or physician.

Take non-surgical repair for a broken ankle.

For a 26-year-old female insured by Cigna who chooses a top-rated orthopedic surgeon in Washington, D.C., such a procedure costs $1,729.

But if she chooses another top-rated orthopedic surgeon in nearby College Park, Maryland, the procedure costs $1,199.

That’s according to a company called Amino, which mines data from billions of health insurance claims from the private and public sectors. Amino then gives patients access to information on the cost of various procedures and how much experience doctors nationwide have in those procedures.

And in the age of rising deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for health care, this Silicon Valley-based company is working to put more of such information in the hands of patients.

An alumnus of Zillow, a real estate company that provides data on the housing market, Amino CEO David Vivero decided to start the company in 2013 based on what he personally had gone through in searching for a new insurance plan.

Because Vivero has a pre-existing condition, he realized he probably would have trouble finding a good insurance plan and a good doctor.

“I realized just having the consumer experience that health care had offered me was really frustrating,” Vivero says in an interview with The Daily Signal. “So I decided to build Amino to solve that.”

The company provides consumers with access to specifics about procedures, doctors, and costs generated by its massive database of health insurance claims from government and private-sector partners.

Users head to its website, Amino.com, and click through five screens—procedure, gender, age, location, and insurer, which is optional—before they’re presented with results for doctors based on quality and prices for more than 90 procedures.

Need a chest X-ray in the Arlington, Virginia, area?

For a 26-year-old female enrolled with UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest insurance provider, the procedure will cost $662 at Virginia Hospital Center, the top-billed facility.

Need to repair a broken ankle in the Sarasota, Florida, region?

For a 48-year-old male insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, the procedure will cost $2,029 to see the top-rated doctor for fixing a broken ankle.

The website doesn’t have any ads or sponsorships, and because of this, Vivero says, he hopes Amino can offer “truth” to health care consumers.

“By committing to not taking advertisements or allowing for providers of care to bid up, we can promise the results are data-driven for consumers,” he says.

Vivero says he believes that having access to this information helps consumers make more informed choices about their health care:

Transparency can really change markets. Having an empowered consumer was really something that would really create both a competent set of choices, and also solve problems for insurance plans and providers who are now dealing with the realities of this emerging consumer class in health care.

And as deductibles on health care plans have continued to rise, leaving consumers to pay more out of their own pockets, more companies see a market for showing patients the costs of medical procedures.

“When people pay their own way, they’ll start to shop and demand prices,” Twila Brase, president of the consumer group Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom, tells The Daily Signal. “Lots of people wanted to force doctors to be transparent about their prices, but it didn’t matter until people pay their bills.”

When it first launched, Amino provided users with information on the quality of doctors featured on the site.

In October 2015, the company introduced a service allowing users to tap into its database of doctors nationwide to determine which they like based on how much experience doctors have with specific conditions and the insurance accepted. It also allows users to book an appointment.

And last year, the health care company unveiled its cost estimates, allowing patients to find the costs of 49 different services or procedures and estimate what they may have to pay based on their insurer.

Today, Amino provides cost estimates for more than 90 procedures.

“They’ve been able to finally compare and understand the prices that are available for them, which is a huge opportunity for the average consumer,” Vivero says of users.

‘The Pioneers’

As of 2015, health care spending in the United States reached $3.2 trillion, according to the federal government, and health insurance data has been used by others in the industry to build actuarial models and combat fraud.

But Vivero says his company is the first to marry access to that data with patients’ desire for transparency.

“As it relates to using this data to empower consumers to feel informed and confident in their health care choices, we feel we’re the pioneers,” Vivero says.

The company is one of several ushering in a new era of transparency in health care, fueled by higher deductibles and the increased amount patients pay out of their own pockets.

“As deductibles rise in health care, more and more decisions become the sole financial responsibility of that head of household or that individual insured member,” Vivero says. “As a result of that, the information appetite that people have has grown substantially.”

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the size of deductibles increased 12 percent in 2016 for consumers in the group market.

For employers with fewer than 200 employees, 65 percent of workers are in high-deductible plans, with the average deductible totaling $2,000.

In the individual market, deductibles have continued to rise as well.

According to an Avalere study of plans sold on Obamacare’s exchanges, combined deductibles—which include medical and drug deductibles—for silver-level plans jumped 20 percent from 2016 to 2017.

In 2016, for example, the average combined deductible for a silver-level plan was $3,075. In 2017, that rose to $3,703.

Though many patients began noticing a rise in deductibles after implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Kaiser Family Foundation notes that this trend began before Obamacare was signed into law.

Still, as consumers move toward health insurance plans with lower premiums in exchange for higher deductibles, they tend to desire more information on health care services.

“Private-sector companies see an opening because people are now forced to pay cash to meet their deductibles,” Brase, of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom, says. “[Obamacare] has returned a cost-consciousness to a fair amount of people.”

Brase and her organization advocate a cash-based system of health care, where patients don’t have to rely on insurers to pay their bills. Removing insurers from the equation allows patients to negotiate prices directly with providers, she says.

But those with insurance, Brase says, are becoming more aware of the impact medical procedures will have on their pocketbooks:

Transparency is really important because it moves us back to true sensitivity about prices. Because of Obamacare, it forced people into paying for their own bills, [and] they then naturally gravitated toward transparency. They started asking for prices, shopped around, and went on the internet.

Brase warns that in today’s system of health care, it’s difficult to know what the “true cost” of any given procedure is, since insurance companies negotiate prices directly with providers.

That means that even within the same hospital or medical facility, costs may vary.

But the push for more transparency in the health care industry can help get patients closer to solving that puzzle, Brase says.

“It brings us closer to the true cost,” she says. “It also brings the prices down because then there’s competition between the posted costs.”

‘Nuanced Choices’

Vivero says he has heard from many Amino users who use his company’s website for different purposes.

Some report that Amino helped save “tens of thousands of dollars,” he says. Other consumers praise the company for helping to avoid misdiagnoses, since they were able to find experienced doctors to get a second opinion.

And others changed their habits of health care consumption based on the information Amino provided.

“Being able to see that information up front is incredibly empowering,” Vivero says of consumers, adding:

What they do with that is either to choose a physician, or sometimes they budget differently. Or they might decide to get that procedure done in one calendar year versus another. But at the very least, you have the information you need to make that informed choice.

To provide patients with cost estimates, Amino partnered with more than a dozen companies across the health care supply chain—health IT companies, payment processors, insurers—to compile data on patients’ health insurance claims.

That gave the company access to a trove of insurance information from the private sector.

Then, in 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services—the federal agency that also oversees Obamacare—named Amino a “qualified entity,” making it the first for-profit company to receive the designation. As a qualified entity, the company received claims data from Medicare Parts A, B, and D.

Amino removed all identifying information from the data it received and, with the claims, built a database with information on which doctors take which insurers, how much different procedures cost, and how much consumers will pay.

Vivero says his company now has data from more than 9 billion health insurance claims, and Amino users can book appointments online with more than 900,000 doctors and facilities.

The company recently added Amino Plus, a service for insurance companies or employers that gives members access to additional information on their insurance plans, including plan documents, network data, and the current status of their deductibles and out-of-pocket maximum fees.

“The effect of that is to drive even greater use of in-network services so that … the consumer gets fewer surprise bills and so the employer gets fewer surprise bills and out-of-network charges,” Vivero says.

In March, Amino released a study with Ipsos, a market research company, exploring Americans’ attitudes about health care costs.

The study found that 63 percent of Americans said that receiving a medical bill they can’t afford is worse than or as bad as being diagnosed with a serious illness.

Additionally, 55 percent said they received a medical bill they couldn’t afford, and 1 in 5 said they avoid high medical bills by avoiding the doctor.

Vivero says Amino’s mission is to help patients make more informed decisions that save money.

“We hope to give them the information they need to make smart choices that in the long run are better for their wallets and better for their health,” he says. (For more from the author of “It’s Almost Impossible to Find out the Cost of a Medical Procedure. This Company Is Trying to Change That.” please click HERE)

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